Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico… That is a once in a lifetime opportunity, right? Before my trip, I remember reading somewhere that if you really sat down and worked it out, less than 0.00 something % of the world had swum with whale sharks. With statistics like that, it was hard for me to say no to this experience. Thiswas offered as an optional through Contiki, on my Mexico Grande Tour. I had friends who had done the tour and had raved about this part of the trip, and it was not to be missed. Of course, I also completely ignored their comments about how sick everyone was, and conveniently forgot this until the day of the whale shark arrived. This was my experience of swimming with whale sharks.
Our day begun with our breakfast at the hotel, before being picked up to be taken to the port. I woke up with butterflies in my stomach, mixed nerves and excitement. We headed over to the port to get ready for the boat trip. Ten of us from the tour set off in one boat together, and we raced off into the ocean for a good 45 minutes at high speed, along with numerous other boats. June through September is Whale Shark season in Cancun, so it is a busy time. We then bobbed in the water for a couple of hours waiting for a whale shark sighting.
Now, if you’ve had any chance to read my other posts, or you know me personally, I have an incredibly weak stomach. My friends and family know I ride shotgun, because if not, I’ll be sick. I feed the fish even on flat seas. So what made me think I could sit on a boat for several hours in the ocean waters off Mexico, I have no idea. At the end of the day, I think my last 12 months of trying to experience the world in everyway possible made me think that I could do this, and that I should! And of course, I should have. But I can also tell you I was the first and last to throw up, and did not stop throwing up until we reached land again - pretty sure I am the record holder. And this is what I did while waiting to spot a whale shark.
Once we finally found a whale shark and raced to the spot, I was pretty quickly chucked into the water by the crew. I left my GoPro on board, because at this point my main focus was to get in the water, see the whale shark, and not drown. The whale shark was MAGNIFICENT. While I have no pictures of my own, that image of this massive creature swimming below me will forever be burned in my mind. It was absolutely breathtaking and incredible. No picture or description will ever do it justice, but I was floored by the sheer size of this creature. Its spots were so bright against its body, and the blue ocean depths around it. I will never, ever forget seeing it.
After a very brief stint in the water, the crew grabbed hold of me and helped me get back to our boat. The three of us who were on the tour climbed back in, and our boat joined the back of the queue. With so many tourists out on the ocean for this experience, there is a particular way in which things must be done. The boats form a circular line around where it is, and takes turns of dropping the swimmers and their crew into the water. This means you’re potentially sat in the boat for a long period of time with precious minutes in the water with the whale sharks. Only a few people can obviously swim at a time, and you don’t want swimmers to get on the wrong boats. Unfortunately, I could only manage getting into the water once. By the time everyone in the boat had had a turn, and I could go again, I had fed the fish a couple times more, and I could barely keep my head up. There was no way that I was going to put myself back in the ocean because I wasn’t sure Id be able to get myself out. The rest of my group hopped back in, and had an incredible time. Some of them spent several minutes swimming with the whale shark, and were just thrilled when they got back into the boat. It sounded amazing and I wish I had been able to go again.
After everyone had had the chance of going twice, it was going to take over an hour for us to have the next turn, just because there were so many boats in line. The boat decided to head to the Isla Mujeres. This was beautiful. I finally started to feel better as we weren’t bobbing at sea anymore, and we spent an hour relaxing in the water, eating ceviche and sandwiches. I wish I had been strong enough to enjoy the experience as much as the others did, but it was pretty difficult when you are feeling that ill. Still I have no regrets, it was an incredible experience, and I definitely have a lot more respect for the ocean. To the extent that I probably wont be going out in it like that again for a long period of time!
The staff on our boat was EXCELLENT. They stopped every so often to dunk me in the water to refresh which was really helpful, as it was so hot out. One of the guys stood with ice on my neck and head every time I was sick, and always had a bottle of water for me. They were absolutely fantastic, and I am very grateful for the experience they gave us, and for taking care of me on the boat!
As much as I loved swimming with the whale shark we saw, I had a pretty miserable time on the boat. I hate to go on about how ill I was, but I really wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who is affected by that kind of thing easily. I try to be positive and upbeat about it, and at the end of the day it’s all part of the experience, but for many people, I know they would be pretty disappointed and or frustrated. These tours do cost a considerable amount of money, so this is definitely something to think about. About 7/10 of us were sick, but I was the worst. My group applauded my survival as we were getting off the boat. Keep in mind, I get nauseous super easily! If you like me, think about it. Having said all that, it was an incredible experience to be so close to a magnificent animal like this, and I won't ever forget or regret it!
Some important facts for a Whale Shark Experience
1. Don’t wear sun block
I know… I’m a redhead and I’m saying don’t wear sun block. I completely panicked when our crew told us this. The reason for the no sunscreen rule is that there are just so many people getting into the water everyday. The oils in our sunscreen are toxic to the whales. Your way around this? Bring a hat, wear a rash guard, and use your towel to cover up. You will most likely still get burnt if you are fair-skinned like me, but that’s better than hurting a beautiful animal in their home right?
2. You are not always guaranteed a whale shark sighting
Our captain explained that the day before they had swam with over 10 whale sharks. On our trip we only saw one. That’s the way it goes.
3. Keep hydrated
You're out on a boat, sitting in the sun for a few hours... Hydration is key. Of course, if you over-hydrate, you're going to need to pee. In the ocean. Or if you boat has a toilet you can use that. My dad has a boat with a toilet - I don't recommend that option. So, balance!
4. Take something for motion sickness
If you are ANYTHING like me make sure you take something for motion sickness. Truly, my motion sickness issues did not leave for a great day, even though it was an incredible moment to swim with the whales!
Food for Thought:
This post is so full of conflicting views and feelings I know! And I’m going to add more to that. The more and more I travel, the more I see and start to understand our impact we have as travelers. On our trip to Marietas Island, there was just SO much trash in the water. A friend and I lost flippers in our attempts to get out of the cave. I tried to rescue hers, and then mine disappeared into the waves as well, while we were trying to safely make it through the cave and its rising tide. We weren’t allowed to wear sun block on our trip (which I’m sure many people ignore), and there are just SO many people out in the water with the whales. You start to think more and more about the impact you have as a traveler. Seeking out these experiences are truly once in a lifetime opportunities, and truthfully something I want to seek out. But there comes a point where I also have to ask myself, but at what cost? These are super early, unformed thoughts in my head, which I am sure I will look at more and more as time goes on. As travelers and tourists, we need to be respectful of the environments we head into, and we need to seek out experiences that are friendly to the people and creatures around them. I’m hoping this one was. Our crew was very knowledgeable and informed, and really hit it home about things like sun block, not touching the whales and a number of other concerns about the safety of the whale sharks. It makes me wonder if other boats across the world are also. In future, I’d definitely like to really research my experiences before I head off on them.
What do you think? Have you ever had an experience where you felt like this afterwards? How do you seek out trips that are eco-friendly and do not impact the environment they are in? Have you had any other amazing experiences (or not so amazing) like this? Let me know in your comments below!